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Pet hotels: which are the biggest stress factors for my pet?

  • Absence of reference person
  • Lack of social contact
  • Inconvenient environment (too narrow, crowded, no litter, no rest or retreat area)
  • Change of daily routine (other times for feeding, walks, going for a pee)

  • Change of diet (can entail indigestion or lack of appetite)

  • Lack of exercise, no opportunities for play

  • Noise (from other animals or from other sources)

  • Presence of strangers / contact with strangers

  • Presence and physical closeness of other animals

  • Unfamiliar smells and noises

  • Unfamiliar temperatures (what is the temperature like at home - what is it like at the pet hotel?)

  • No personal objects that emit the familar smells

  • Adaptation to other humans (guardians, caregivers, veterinarians)

Pet hotel: how do I find a good one for my pet?

Choosing a good pet hotel has much in common with choosing a good hotel: is there enough information available on the internet? Is there a detailed description of services, special offers and providers' qualifications?

Even if the staff of a pet hotel give their best, not every pet hotel is appropriate for your pet. Therefore, our recommendation is:

  • Arrange an on-site visit

Go and visit several pet hotels that seem to qualify at first sight. Arrange a visit at a time when the owner has time to show you around the boarding facility and answer your questions.

Expect that you have to go and see several pet hotels, before finding the right one for your pet. Therefore, start your search early on, not at the last minute.

  • Take a good look at the staff

What is the reception at the pet hotel like? Are the staff friendly and attentive? Is the pet hotel well-organized? How do staff members welcome your pet?

Unfriendly, stressed-out personnel that leave an unpleasant impression with you will probably leave a similar impression with your pet. If checking in your pet creates a huge organizational challenge, taking care of your pet while you are away will probably be seen as a burden as well.

How do staff members react when you ask critical questions? Are they friendly and candid? Do they try to be responsive to your fears and your legitimate request for information?

Or is their reaction unfriendly, aggressive or denying? If critical questions are too much for them, so might be the service you expect from them.

If you get this impression, continue your search elsewhere!

Does the pet hotel have enough employees to spend a sufficient amount of time with each guest? Do staff members have time to play with animals, to stroke them or talk to them? Ask your pet hotel how many pets they are hosting at the moment and how many people are working for them.

If the pet hotel offers walks for dogs, ask how long such walks will take. Consider whether the pet hotel in question can really deliver on its promises, with the given staff numbers.

Do staff members have sufficient qualification? Do not feel shy to ask for proof. For professional pet care providers, it is a matter of course to display their diplomas in the reception area.

Professional pet hotels, on the other hand, will also demand compliance with certain formalities of their customers: evidence that your pet has been vaccinated, writing down all peculiarities of your pet, making you sign a contract in which all possible events are regulated. This is not a sign of mistrust, but of professionalism.

  • Take a good look at the lodgings

Are the lodgings in a well-kept state? Is the room temperature agreeable and similar to room temperature at home? Are the rooms dry and clean, without humid spots or mould?

What is the overall impression like? Was the pet hotel clean and tidy or unkempt and chaotic? Did you notice unpleasant smells (urine, faeces, food)?

Are the lodgings made of materials that are easy to clean? Floors and walls of lodgings that are not waterproof, will absorb urine and smell bad forever. This is a hygienic problem, but also disagreeable for your pet. For the same reason, no absorbent material should be used as flooring (sand, paper, etc.).

Do the other pet hotel guests give an impression of being satisfied? Or are they stressed and aggressive? Stressed animals are irritated by visitors. The noise they make as a consequence will also add to the stress of your pet.

Is there enough space for your pet? For financial reasons, some animal boarding facilities try to accommodate more animals than they can comfortably host.

Are there quiet rest areas available? Is the flooring soft and clean? Are there beds or sofas, where your pet can stretch out? No animal likes to relax on a hard, cold floor.

  • Ask to see the specific place where your pet will be staying

If your request is denied, you will have to assume that the pet hotel has something to hide. Maybe there are a number of model lodgings, while your pet will be staying in a much less attractive area. Insist on seeing your pet's place with your own eyes!

  • Take a good look at your pet

Arrange a test stay. This can be an overnight stay or a whole weekend. Professional pet hotels make the successful test stay a condition for accepting a pet.

Take an attentive look at your pet when you retrieve him: is your pet stressed, depressed or reacting somehow strangely?

Or do you get the impression that your pet would have loved to stay longer?

Or do you rather get the impression that he was desperately waiting for you to return?

Pet hotel: how can I make the stay as low-stress as possible?

For any pet, a stay at a pet hotel means an adjustment. Even if a pet hotel is as comfortable as home, it will never be the same.

But there are ways to make the stay easier for your pet. You as an owner can contribute to that, as well as the pet hotel (especially when dealing with dogs):

1. What you can do as a pet owner

Take your time. Don't drop your pet at the very last minute at the pet hotel. If you are under pressure and feel stressed, your pet will sense it and feel uneasy. It is much better for you to be relaxed and in good spirits when you take your pet to the pet hotel. This way, your pet senses that you are not worried, so there is no need to be worried.

If you own a young animal, you can slowly get him used to pet hotels by making him stay there occasionally. It will be easier for your pet to be separated from you, if he considers the pet hotel already his "second home". Therefore, you should avoid changing pet hotels all the time.

Be well prepared when you arrive at the pet hotel. Ideally, you have a list ready with all things that are important: diseases of your pet, medicines required, special diets etc.. You will be less stressed yourself if you always have a binder with all important documents with you (vaccination certificate, disease reports etc.).

Bring persal items to the pet hotel, which remind your pet of home: e.g. a blanket on which your pet usually lies down and which exudes the familiar smell (therefore, don't wash it!), toys and similar things. Bringing your pet's usual food from home can also reduce stress. In most pet hotels, you can bring your own food without any problems.

Leave a piece of clothing behind which you have been wearing (an old pullover, for example). Especially dogs and cats will sense your personal smell and conclude that you are going to return (since your pullover is still there).

2. What you as a pet hotel owner can do

Not all stress factors can be altogether avoided. Some of the measures we metion here involve cost and will have to be charged to the pet owner. Some other stress factors can be mitigated with little effort. It is also important that you as the owner make your own comparison of what different pet hotels have to offer.

Social contact

Most of all pets, dogs need a lot of social contact. It is of vital importance that social contact doesn't break down completely when the owner is not around. Therefore, it is important that your personnel likes to attend to your animal guests and has sufficient time to do so. This special attention increases pets' well-being and can also be marketed as a quality criterion.

Avoid abrupt changes of daily routine

A change of diet is an important stress factor for animals. Therefore, you should try to feed them their usual food whenever possible. If this is not possible, you should at least try to make a gradual transition. Inform the pet owner that these options are available.

Autonomous change of environment

At home, many pets can decide for themselves whether they want to frolic in the garden or lie on the sofa. In a pet hotel, that level of freedom is not always possible. Good pet hotels, however, offer choices to their guests: for example an outdoor run, rest areas, as well as lying surfaces at different levels (cats and dogs love to get an overview).

Noise at the pet hotel can be kept low by observing a few constructional measures (not more than 20 animals per section, for example). Music and similar man-made noises should not be intrusively noisy.

It is a proven fact that soothing music has a calming effect on animals, most likely because it suggests a human presence. Music should not be running all the time, otherwise it will ultimately be ignored by the animals. It should only be running at given times, just like in an apartment inhabited by humans.

Temperature and ventilation

For household pets, room temperature should be similar to what they are used to at home. Pet hotel guests appreciate the liberty to choose for themselves when to move outdoors or indoors.

Personal items

Personal items like blankets, toys etc. will remind a pet of home and thus make the transition to the pet hotel easier. Make the owner aware that this is a good way of making the stay at your pet hotel less frightening.

Presence of strangers

Your staff should be aware that especially dogs don't like strangers to be around or touching them. Your staff should take the time to get a little bit familiar with each animal. Animal caretakers should be familiar with the psychology of the specific species and be able to recognize the animal's needs from its behavior and body language.

Other dogs

Your caretakers should be aware that some dogs are afraid of other dogs, especially when these show an aggressive demeanour. Therefore, timid dogs should not be accommodated in a kennel next to an aggressive dog. This is especially true if the kennel consists of meshed wire only, so there's not privacy shield.

Aggressive dogs should be accommodated separately. If that's not possible, they should be located far from the others, so they are little noticed. It can mean tremendous stress to a timid dog to have to pass by an aggressive dog, even if he is behind meshed wire.


The smell of disinfectants can be very disturbing to the sensitive nose of a dog. You can reduce the smell by rinsing the floors with water, after disinfecting them, or by using a steam cleaner.

Offering variety for pet hotel guests

You can make the stay at your pet hotel much more agreeable for the animals, if you offer activities that are appropriate for their species:

  • Social contact with other animals or with guardians (playing, stroking, commending etc.)

  • Daily walks and a generous run area

  • Play with the animals (especially dogs): fetch a stick, overcoming obstacles, playing tag

  • Putting feed in places that can only be reached with a certain effort. This is a stimulus for animals to earn their food.

  • If you provide toys, those should be too large to be swallowed and should be easy to disinfect

  • Building an obstacle course that allows animals to do climbing

  • Provide some chewable items for dogs (bones, raw leather etc.)

  • In summer, especially dogs will be happy to get a chance to take a cool bath. If you facility doesn't have a natural stream of water, you can fill an inflatable swimming pool instead. Make sure the water is refreshed at regular intervals. For animals other than dogs, the best option in summer is a place in the shade, where they can take shelter from the heat.

  • For cats and dogs, it is very exciting to watch birds. If you install a bird feeder at your premises, this is a fantastic entertainment for your pet hotel guests. Make sure the feeder is out of reach, though.

Sick animals

It can happen that a pet gets sick during his stay at a pet hotel, or that an existing medical condition is getting worse. The unfamiliar environment can facilitate this. It is a good idea to ask for the address of the family vet, in case the animals gets sick. The vet may have more information than the owner has shared with you and will be able to give competent advice.

Pets with special needs

Especially puppies, old and sick animals, as well as pets that display behavioral disorders and/or are very active, need more attention. Please make the owner aware of these special needs and explain what you can do to meet them. Don't forget to mention any cost associated with this.

Accommodating pets two by two

Many pets enjoy the company of others, but some don't. Your staff should be aware of this and recognize at a glance whether two animal guests are compatible or not. With dogs, animals of comparable size and strength should be matched, if they are going to share housing.

Playing with other animals

For most pets, playing with other animals is a good surrogate for the contact with their owners. It is also a great opportunity to dissipate some excess energy. However, this can be a daunting experience for timid animals, if aggressive animals become overbearing. Therefore, keep an eye on playing animals, so you can step in if required.

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